Child Health

Helping Children Cope with Stress in the Era of COVID-19

March 15, 2020 | Ohio

By Tracy Najera, Executive Director

March 15, 2020

The COVID-19 public health crisis represents a natural disaster unlike any we will experience in our lifetime. We may feel general sense of fear and worry, experience economic stress, and concern of potential health risks that may be faced by our loved ones or ourselves. It’s also during these times that we have the capacity to pull together as communities and when the best of humanity can shine through.

Today, Governor DeWine, accompanied by Lt Governor John Husted and Director of the Department of Heath Amy Acton, discussed additional orders and public health precautions that will be taken to limit the spread or “flatten the curve” of this virus. The number of cases in Ohio have grown from 2 to over 30 in just a matters of days demonstrating the need for additional actions to keep Ohioans safe. The DeWine Administration also signaled that more orders and closings may occur in the coming days and weeks depending on how the virus spreads.

In the meantime, there are a number of actions our legislative leaders can take to calm fears, support families and children, and encourage healthy behaviors. CDF-Ohio and its partners will be identifying and advocating for those issues to support good public health and the health of children and families during this difficult time in our society.

Beyond the policies, waivers, and rules – we need to also manage our own stress and the mental health of our children. Many children sense and absorb the fear and stress experienced by their parents and it can present in unexpected ways. The Child Mind Institute outlines a list of ways that parents and other caregivers can support children during stressful times and they include the following (modified from the original article):

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more.
  • Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
  • Take your cues from your child. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
  • Deal with your own anxiety. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
  • Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it.
  • Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
  • Stick to routine. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.
  • Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more.

Further, the Ohio Department of Mental Health Addiction Services provides a page of resources for individuals who want more information on how to cope, handle the stress of them or their loved ones, and need additional advise and support from experts.

According to the CDC, be observant of out of character behaviors in children, such as:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Access more information from the Centers for Disease Control on childhood stress caused by disasters and emergencies here.

We, as adults, can support our children by being present, honest, and encouraging them to share their feelings and emotions. In order for us to do this, we must also follow some of the same advise we’re sharing for children. Adults must also get their rest, mind their physical activity, and nutrition. Self care should be practiced by the whole family in times like these. It’s easier said than done and we can all just do our best. Be well and take care.